Daryl Morey

Atlantic Notes: Durant, Sixers, VanVleet, Anunoby

New Nets coach Steve Nash envisions a versatile role for Kevin Durant that would have him see time at all five positions, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Nash discussed Durant during an appearance this week on J.J. Redick‘s podcast, saying Durant has the skills to succeed anywhere on the court.

“Kevin, with his length, is a matchup problem for everyone,” Nash said. “(Kyrie Irving’s) excellent off the ball. Kevin can play all five positions, and I plan to use him in all five positions. I get excited to use some of the guys on the roster: Caris (LeVert), (DeAndre Jordan), Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris.”

Scouts and other league personnel who spoke to Lewis believe Brooklyn could have some devastating lineups with Durant at center, especially in a conference where the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Raptors’ Pascal Siakam have succeeded in that role.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Sixers are considering a front office shakeup that would include the addition of a president of basketball operations, sources tell Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. One source indicated that Trail Blazers executive Neil Olshey may be interested, but only if he has complete control over basketball decisions as both president and general manager. Rumors have surrounded former Hawks executive Danny Ferry, but the Sixers are denying that he’s a potential candidate. A source says the team plans to ask about Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Pacers president Kevin Pritchard, but the source doesn’t expect either to wind up in Philadelphia.
  • Fred VanVleet will be the Raptors‘ priority in free agency and they’ll find it expensive to keep him, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Smith estimates that Toronto could could give VanVleet a new deal starting at around $20MM per season while still retaining a maximum salary slot for the summer of 2021. He adds that the team may have to sacrifice Norman Powell or convince him to rework his contract to make that happen.
  • Raptors small forward OG Anunoby has signed with Klutch Sports Group, the agency announced on Twitter.

Rockets Notes: Morey, Fertitta, D’Antoni, Coaching Job

General manager Daryl Morey’s job is safe and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta declared that Morey and the basketball operations department will conduct the search for a new head coach, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Fertitta, who made his comments on CNBC, said he will merely sign off on the recommendation made by Morey and his staff.

“It begins and ends with the general manager,” Fertitta said. “You can talk to me all day long. I personally wouldn’t know what coach to hire. That’s why you have a basketball operations team that’s made of a half a dozen people that use all kinds of analytics and experience.”

Mike D’Antoni‘s decision to leave Houston was made public on Sunday.

We have more on the Rockets:

  • Fertitta’s lack of communication with D’Antoni after the Rockets were eliminated by the Lakers led to the coach’s decision to depart, Kelly Iko and Sam Amick of The Athletic report. D’Antoni spoke with Morey and everyone on the team prior to the flight back to Houston on Sunday. D’Antoni expected a phone call from ownership regarding the season and its future plans for him but that didn’t come. Prior to boarding the plane, D’Antoni decided he would leave the franchise and test the open market.
  • Expectations will remain high for the Rockets and that’s one factor for potential head coaching candidates to consider, Feigen opines. The Rockets’ core players are on the wrong side of 30 and their window is closing. If the franchises decides to rebuild after Russell Westbrook and James Harden finish out their contracts, the Rockets don’t possess many assets, Feigen adds.
  • Jeff Green isn’t thinking about retiring, though as a free agent it’s uncertain whether he’ll be back in Houston. Get the details here.

Rockets Notes: D’Antoni, Morey, House, Gordon

Mike D’Antoni wants to continue coaching, but his time in Houston may be over, writes Sam Amick of The Athletic. D’Antoni, 69, is now a free agent on the coaching market after his Rockets were ousted from the playoffs Saturday night. He hasn’t ruled out staying with his current team, but was unable to reach an extension last summer, leading to a public battle with management.

Sources tell Amick that there’s interest in D’Antoni from the Pacers, who recently fired Nate McMillan. However, Indiana is looking at other candidates as well, and D’Antoni’s hiring wouldn’t be a sure thing. There have also been rumors that he might be headed to New Orleans and a reunion with VP of basketball operations David Griffin, whom he once worked with in Phoenix, but Amick hears that D’Antoni isn’t a serious contender for the Pelicans job.

D’Antoni has been successful in his four years with the Rockets, posting a 217-101 record and leading the team to at least the second round of the playoffs each season. But Amick adds that hard feelings remain from last year’s failed talks involving D’Antoni’s agent, Warren LeGarie, and owner Tilman Fertitta, general manager Daryl Morey and CEO Tad Brown.

Amick notes that ABC/ESPN analyst and former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy is considered a candidate if the job opens up again. Tim MacMahon of ESPN also mentions Van Gundy, along with ex-Nets coach Kenny Atkinson and Pelicans assistant Chris Finch, who has a championship on his resume with the Rockets’ G League affiliate in Rio Grande.

There’s more Rockets news this morning:

  • Morey’s job remains safe, despite the playoff ouster and an early-season tweet that cost the organization millions in sponsorship deals and damaged the NBA’s relationship with China, high-ranking Rockets sources tell MacMahon. Morey reportedly plans to continue the small-ball experiment next season as he believes it’s the best way to maximize the talents of James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
  • Rockets players haven’t said much publicly about the Danuel House incident since he was forced to leave the Disney World campus following an alleged violation of league rules, but Harden called it a “distraction” in a post-game interview. (video link from Ben DuBose of USA Today’s The Rockets Wire). “Very, very disappointing. It affected us,” Harden said. “Obviously, we still have to go out there and play a basketball game, and play a series. But it affected us. Obviously, it’s a distraction. He was a huge part of our rotation.”
  • Saturday’s loss means the final year of Eric Gordon‘s contract will remain non-guaranteed, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN. The four-year extension Gordon signed in September includes a provision that guarantees his $20.9MM salary for 2023/24 if he makes an All-Star team or the Rockets win a championship.

Daryl Morey: Rockets Hope To Keep Mike D’Antoni

Even though rumors of a split have been circulating for more than a year, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told Mark Medina of USA Today the team will prioritize a new deal with coach Mike D’Antoni.

“It’s probably No. 1. That’s a fair way to put it,” Morey said. “We have all our key players signed. I think Mike coming back is super important.”

D’Antoni is in the final year of his contract and his departure seemed inevitable after the organization was unable to get him to agree to a new contract last summer. Owner Tilman Fertitta reportedly insisted on a one-year deal, which didn’t interest D’Antoni.

Morey dismissed the idea of an impending coaching change as “a media creation,” adding that “it’s convenient for agents to focus on it.” There is already speculation that other organizations would be interested in D’Antoni if he doesn’t return to Houston, specifically the Pelicans, whose head of basketball operations David Griffin worked with D’Antoni in Phoenix, and the Pacers, who fired Nate McMillan this week.

D’Antoni is in his fourth year with the Rockets and has led them to a 217-101 record with at least one playoff series win each season. His fate might have been sealed if Houston had lost Game 7 to the Thunder, but they now hold a 1-0 lead over the top-seeded Lakers and the organization and players are expressing confidence in their coach.

“Mike is a guy that gets along with everybody, and it’s all up for the players to hone in and do what we need to do,” Eric Gordon said. “He gives us the opportunity. He’s a great communicator. So he gives us a lot of options that we feel like we need to do.”

Rockets Notes: D’Antoni, Travel Details, Tucker

69-year-old Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, who says he has cleared his medical screenings with Houston, has flown with the team to Orlando, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon (Twitter link). Though D’Antoni was granted no “formal NBA thumbs up,” as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets, the league also did not restrict D’Antoni’s campus attendance following the medical clearance.

D’Antoni is the league’s second-oldest head coach, after 71-year-old Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. The 40-24 Rockets are currently the No. 6 seed in the West, 1.5 games clear of the seventh-seeded Mavericks.

There’s more out of Houston:

  • D’Antoni and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey are relishing the opportunity for the team to practice together ahead of the league’s scheduled July 30 restart, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “Because we had a major change in the components of the team, we do think a second training camp benefits us,” Morey said. “Because when you’re integrating a starter onto a very good team, getting more time to drill… will allow us to integrate (Robert) Covington in, and I do think that slightly favors us.”
  • Rockets All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook did not travel with the rest of the team to Orlando today, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium (Twitter link). They are expected to arrive later this week. Newly-signed substitute player Luc Mbah a Moute and player development coach John Lucas also did not travel with the rest of the Rockets, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).
  • 35-year-old Rockets forward/center and defensive stalwart P.J. Tucker has indicated that he would like an extension on his current four-year contract, which expires after the 2020/21 season, per Fox 26 Houston’s Mark Berman (Twitter link). “I want to retire as a Houston Rocket,” Tucker said. “The fans, the city have embraced me since day one. So fingers crossed, I hope we can strike a deal and get it done.”

Rockets’ Morey Talks D’Antoni, Harden, Playoffs

The Rockets currently rank sixth in the Western Conference at 40-24, and have just a 1.5-game cushion on the seventh-place Mavericks. However, they’ll also have a chance to move up in the standings when play resumes, since they’re tied with the fifth-place Thunder and are only one game back of the fourth-place Jazz.

There has been a little uncertainty about whether head coach Mike D’Antoni will be on the sidelines when play resumes, since D’Antoni’s age (69) may put him at increased risk of suffering more serious symptoms – or even dying – if he contracts the coronavirus.

However, speaking to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey dismissed the idea that D’Antoni won’t be part of the NBA’s restart in Orlando. Morey also recently appeared on an episode of the Pomp Podcast with Anthony Pompliano (video link) and addressed a number of topics, including his perception of Rockets superstar James Harden and why he feels as though the NBA should play shorter postseason series.

Here, via MacMullan, Drew Shiller of NBC Bay Area, and the Pomp Podcast, are a few of Morey’s more interesting comments on those subjects:

On D’Antoni participating in the resumed season:

“Mike will be coaching our team. It would be such a huge disadvantage to lose him. We would never stand for that. In fairness to the league, they set up a process whereby everyone will have to submit a medical record. I’m sure the doctors told them that some people over a certain age shouldn’t go. But Mike is in great health. He’s in better shape than some 40-year-old coaches we have. Besides, I think his dad lived to be 108 or something.”

On the general perception of James Harden:

“I don’t think the media is super fair with him. … Part of it is he has a tight circle of people that he trusts. With those people who he knows have his best interest at heart and who he’s had a history with, he’s very gregarious, very open, very smart — just this great guy. And with everyone else, he’s not the opposite — he’s just reserved. He’s not someone who is going to be a big media guy or things like that. So, I think that hurts him a little bit. But I can I can tell you privately he’s like a basketball genius. He’s a great quality human being.”

On why Morey feels as if he hasn’t held up his end of the bargain with Harden:

“We’ve worked together for eight or nine years now and I couldn’t have a better partner to try and win a title with. And in fact, most days I wake up saying, ‘I’ve let him down because I haven’t gotten him the right players to win a title.'”

On why he thinks the NBA should have shorter playoff series:

“It’s the hardest to win a title in the NBA. There’s less variance. The favorites have a much bigger edge. … On an individual game basis, an NBA game is generally the most predictable of all the major sports. And just to make sure the right team wins, we play seven times. We should be one-and-done and the NFL should play seven times, for example, if you wanted to try to balance out the general variance.

“In my opinion, we should have shorter series so there’s more variance injected, because right now it’s too deterministic. It’s why you’ll see teams win six times in eight years or three times in five years. … It’s rare that you just win one, because once you get a systemic edge – which has happened many times, it’s usually you have the best player in the league – you end up winning multiple times.”

Texas Notes: Carter, Dirk, H-O-R-S-E, Morey

While Vince Carter will be remembered for many accomplishments, his tenure in Dallas may be his most impressive stint, as I detailed on the Basketball Behind The Scenes podcast. Carter joined the Mavericks prior to the lockout-shortened 2011/12 season as the franchise was looking for another player capable of scoring on his own to pair with Dirk Nowitzki.

The former UNC Tar Heel altered his game during his three years in Dallas, shifting away from the ball-dominant ways of the 2000s scorer. Carter made the three-ball a larger part of his shot portfolio and embraced a willingness to be a contributor off the bench, something that was not as glorified then as it is today. Without the shift in his game, Carter may not have had the opportunity to play a record 22 seasons in the league.

Here are more basketball notes from the state of Texas:

  • Nowitzki said that he would have probably turned down the opportunity to compete in ESPN’s H-O-R-S-E competition if he had been asked, as Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News tweets. The Mavericks‘ legend said he only touched a basketball a few times since retiring and once was for a commercial.
  • Acknowledging that an early playoff exit might raise some eyebrows, Kelly Iko of The Athletic writes in a mailbag that Rockets GM Daryl Morey‘s aggressive roster moves in the last year suggest he still has ownership’s trust. Morey has gone in some unconventional directions – such as going completely centerless – that an executive without as much standing in an organization may not have attempted.
  • The Rockets have a few contracts that could be difficult to move in the coming years, including Eric Gordon‘s deal, as John Hollinger tells Iko in a separate piece for The Athletic. The shooting guard inked a four-year, $73MM extension prior to the 2019/20 season.

Rockets’ Morey Talks Draft, Roster, D’Antoni, More

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is hopeful that the NBA will be able to resume its 2019/20 season, since he feels as if his club is in a good spot to make some noise in the playoffs. Speaking to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle, Morey said he was pleased by the way Russell Westbrook and James Harden had meshed in recent months.

“I think we’re as well positioned as we’ve ever been with our current situation,” Morey said. “Maybe we’re not the ’96 Bulls, but I think we’re a team that can win the title in any given year, including this one.”

Morey declined to comment on whether he believes the season can be salvaged, but said he’s “confident in general” about the NBA’s outlook: “I’m optimistic in a lot of ways that we’ll come out of this crisis and that basketball will come out of it as well.”

Feigen’s Q&A with Morey included several other interesting tidbits, as the Rockets’ GM discussed his draft preparations, Mike D’Antoni‘s future, the club’s ability to spend, and more. Let’s round up some of the highlights…

On preparing for the draft despite not having a first- or second-round pick:

“We have a long history of buying (draft picks), which I think has a reasonable chance of happening. We also might have a trade to trade (into the draft.) Actually, having no pick ends up harder than having a pick. You normally don’t want to roster more than one to three rookies in a given year. We generally like to roster at least one because I think it is smart to always have a developmental pipeline going.

“You’re preparing for a much wider list. You have to be ready to trade into the first round. You have to be ready to buy a pick. You have to be ready for the crush as teams chase undrafted players. We’re going to prepare everything now because we just don’t know how much time there’s going to be between things like we normally know.”

On the Rockets’ roster going forward:

“Our (trade) deadline really set us up well. Not only did we shoot for a better structure of our core players, that they fit together better, but also allowed us to be more flexible going forward to add players that we think overall as we allocate our player spending. We were over-weighted at the five spot. This opens up ability to spend at other spots.”

On whether the Rockets want to retain D’Antoni and his staff beyond this season:

“Coach D’Antoni is one of the best all-time coaches, in my opinion. To me, he’s like one of those players in the past that hadn’t quite won the title yet. I’m hoping this is the year for him. He’s one of the all-time great innovators and a great partner. I’d love for it to keep going. It takes two to tango, but we’re going to figure that out in the offseason.”

On how he’d respond to criticism of moves that appeared designed to cut costs and avoid the tax:

“Judge us by results on the floor. I honestly don’t get the focus on what owners around the league are spending. Pretty much every owner is spending … right around the luxury tax line. That’s where we’ve been literally my whole career. Nothing’s changed. That’s how every team operates.”

Daryl Morey Talks Covington, Tax, Buyout Market, Playoffs

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey faced criticism in some circles this week for his decision to move center Clint Capela in a deal for Robert Covington, creating an extra-small lineup that has head coach Mike D’Antoni playing Covington and P.J. Tucker as his de facto “bigs.” While there’s skepticism that Houston can seriously contend for a title playing that form of small-ball, the experiment is off to a good start, with a road win over the Lakers in Covington’s first game on Thursday.

Speaking to Mark Medina of USA Today about the Rockets’ new-look roster and the club’s approach to the deadline, Morey said that Covington is a player Houston had been “trying to get for a long time.” He also shared a few more interesting insights on that deal and expectations for the Rockets as the postseason nears.

The interview is worth checking out in full, but here are some of the highlights from Morey:

On why the Rockets made a major trade after Morey previously suggested they likely wouldn’t:

“It was really just Covington becoming available. We’ve been working on that for a long time. We thought he’d be a perfect piece to play the style we thought would be best for two superstars on our roster. Clint is an extremely good player and one we did not want to give up. But it was required in this deal. Without the perfect piece for how we wanted to play becoming available, Clint would still be here. That was really the only way to get this done.”

On whether Rockets ownership prioritized getting out of the luxury tax:

“No. Actually, I’m being totally up front. I was getting strong encouragement to go the other way.

“… Ownership incorrectly gets beat up. We operate like every other team in the NBA. When you’re a contender, you’re right around the luxury tax line. That’s how we’ve always operated. That’s how we’ve operated since I’ve been here since 2006. We still have a huge payroll in the league. I know people like to focus on it. But that’s a weird thing. Focus on the team on the floor. If people don’t like that we don’t have a big man or don’t like how we play, that’s fine. But judge us for how we are.”

On how the Rockets will approach the buyout market:

“Honestly, we’re just going for best player. We like how we’re playing. People are saying, ‘You have to get a big this or a big that.’ But we’re going for the best player. If that’s a big, we’ll go grab it and figure out if he can fit into our style. If it’s a wing, we’ll do that. We feel very comfortable with our roster. We like where we’re at. We think this is a team that can win the championship. But if we can add a good player in the buyout market, we’ll do it. But we’re not counting on the buyout market.”

On expectations for the Rockets in this year’s playoffs:

“The Lakers deserve to be called the favorites (to come out of the West). They play better than anyone to this point. They’re playing unbelievable basketball at both ends. So they’re the favorite. We’re in a group with the Clippers, Utah and Denver and the other top contenders in the West to fight with them. But we feel very comfortable we can beat the Lakers.”

Rockets Not Motivated By Luxury Tax Concerns?

FEBRUARY 4: Contradicting his original report, Young tweets that he’s been told that Fertitta has given Morey the go-ahead to make deadline deals without financial restrictions. The Rockets’ owner isn’t satisfied with the team’s place in the standings so far and wants to upgrade the roster, Young adds.

While that may be true, Houston is close enough to the tax line that it still wouldn’t be a surprise if the club ducks below it in the coming days.

FEBRUARY 3: The Rockets are looking to shave enough salary off their payroll to avoid the luxury tax, Jabari Young of CNBC.com reports.

The Rockets have been actively engaged in trade talks, most notably dangling center Clint Capela, who is in the early stages of a five-year, $90MM contract. Moving Nene, who has a non-guaranteed $10MM salary for next season, would also contribute greatly toward that goal. The Rockets have approximately $139.9MM in contractual obligations and owner Tilman Fertitta wants to get below the $132MM tax line.

Some league executives believes Rockets GM Daryl Morey is being pressured by Fertitta to decrease salary while simultaneously trying to keep the franchise in championship contention, according to Young.

Fertitta has denied in the past that he’s motivated by luxury tax concerns but the team’s moves the past two years have the look of a franchise trying to dodge the tax, Dan Feldman of NBC Sports notes. The way Houston’s 2018 offseason played out, and the curious moves it make prior to last year’s trade deadline, had the appearance of a team with tax concerns, Feldman continues.

Players like Gerald GreenThabo Sefolosha and Tyson Chandler making the veteran’s minimum could be traded and replaced by players making partial-season minimums, Feldman notes. By tossing in assets to move contracts, the Rockets will hinder their chances of upgrading the team, Feldman adds.